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Working Life Interview: Jean-Paul Kress, CEO of MorphoSys

Published on 13/01/20 at 01:05pm

With a medical doctorate as well as degrees in pharmacology and immunology under your belt, was your path always to go into pharma even from the earliest stages of your career?

When you start as a medical student and you go through your MD, it's a long journey that requires a lot of commitment and passion for what you're doing. The main common denominator is the patient here. The pharma industry approached me for a couple of opportunities and I was lucky enough to meet the right people at the time and so the choice became obvious – it was a way to help patients to find better solutions in a very effective way because the pharma industry shares a common goal to come up with focused solutions as quickly as possible. But beyond the patient it was an opportunity to work on the healthcare system as a whole, and so it was multiple factors that led me to where I am and it is something I have not regretted.

You've worked at some of the most prominent industry names; has this been an illuminating experience when it comes to bringing best practice into each new role you assume?

There have been a couple of major points in my career as I was fortunate enough to always work for first-in-class pharma or biopharma companies focusing on addressing high unmet medical needs, and  I worked in different geographies early on, which was very important for helping me become a better leader. I worked in Europe and the US and at different times on different therapeutic areas, which, again, helped me tackle the global pharma market in a better way, and also how it was going to evolve. Importantly, I would mention it is the great mix of science and business. Probably one of the highlights was when I was at Gilead in the glory years in the 2000s when we were launching breakthrough products in HIV; I have to say that I learned a lot there on the virtue of having people understanding both science and business. It's not so often in in biopharma that you come across that.

I am not advertising or specifying any company, but at the time Gilead was a great highlight since there was a lot of scientific intuition and advances in great therapies addressing a very high unmet medical need in HIV.  I could quote other companies where, you know, each of them had this very important and great role in advancing the field. More recently, I worked as the Senior Leader for Sanofi Genzyme in North America and was the President there. We were launching breakthrough monoclonal antibodies for unmet medical needs in conditions such as atopic dermatitis, and that was also a very strong highlight in my career.

Did you always plan to go into the commercial side of the industry? What was the thinking behind this?

That's a good question. I would start by saying that ‘commercial’ is a bit restrictive.  I actually worked pretty quickly in a general management position. It's a broader position and you get to make the leap to a CEO role where you obviously have the whole span of the business. Commercial is beyond sales and marketing; it includes very important functions like market access, pricing, sometimes medical affairs, so it's quite complex. I started in commercial in my career because I hoped to become general manager and eventually CEO one day, and I am proud I was able to accomplish that.

You started your role as CEO of MorphoSys in September; what spurred this latest career move?

Just before MorphoSys, I was a CEO of a private stage biopharma company called Syntimmune in Boston that ended up being acquired by Alexion for $1.2 billion. After this I wanted to reflect on what could be next. MorphoSys came along and I realised that it was a great fit. I was deeply impressed by the potential of the company, the stage of the main asset – which we hope is going to be commercial very soon – and the quality of the people here with a very strong science and a great reputation. So it really was the perfect move.

How is the role at MorphoSys going so far?

It's going to extremely well, especially with preparations for the anticipated launch of our main asset. I've currently been focusing on the company and the teams here in Munich, but also in the US as I've spent a lot of time there in preparation for our potential launch. Our main product is tafasitamab or MOR208, our lead antibody in clinical development for B-cell malignancies with a focus right now on diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. My top priority now is the successful validation of our plan to gain US FDA approval potentially mid-next year. We plan to file the application by the end of this year 2019, and in anticipation of our launch in the US we are actively ramping up the establishment of our newly formed US team in Boston.

What would you point to as your biggest or proudest achievements so far?

I think in my career there is no one biggest achievement because I was very fortunate to work on several breakthrough products with the HIV products at Gilead, the great vaccines we had at Sanofi Pasteur, and most recently the dupilumab, or Dupixent, launch as the first biologic in the atopic dermatitis space, which has been a therapeutic breakthrough for patients suffering from this disease.

Corporate-wise, I have been really proud of having been part of great companies and helping them grow or be prepared for the next set of opportunities, like at Sanofi Genzyme when we launched dupilumab  as well as Alexion’s takeover of Syntimmune, which showed it would be the best option for the company.

What do you think is the secret of your success and for your career?

The main secret is a mix of science and business – the two cannot be separated. We work in a complex industry, which is highly reliant on science, and we also have to operate the business, but you cannot disjoin both. Being able to quickly grasp the scientific and medical aspects of things for a new drug and a new opportunity or new area is very important and to examine how you can make it a business success for the good of everyone, including the patients – this has been key for me.

What keeps you driven in your day-to-day working life?

I started my career in the big pharma blockbuster era with the Prozacs of the world and now we are talking about highly advanced technical healthcare solutions with monoclonal antibodies, treatments for rare disease and personalised medicine. Having been part of this and of these journeys has provided me with a lot of energy. Managing energy is something very important to me; it is essential to stay at your best both professionally and personally. Thinking about how you can give your best to fulfil the vision of the company and the people has been very important for me and a lot of it comes down to how you manage your energy.

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